Disappointment: 4 Steps in Overcoming the Letdowns of Life

spilled milkLife has felt an awful lot like a roller coaster ride these days. Chances are, you’ve experienced the same sort of thing. One day life feels as fresh and full of hope as a beautiful spring day. You go to bed and wake up—and boy, have things changed. Before you know it, a conversation or email plunges you to the pits of despair. There’s spilled milk everywhere!

All of a sudden, what you thought was steadfast hope and faith collides with an unexpected reality check leaving behind disappointment big enough to knock you down.

A natural optimist, I generally see the good in people or in situations. But I’ll be the first to admit just how quickly my positivity is overtaken by a depressive spirit. Sometimes it takes every ounce of spiritual maturity I have to climb out of the deep places that disappointments take me.

Disappointment leads to hurt. Hurt leads quickly to anger and anger to bitterness. By that time I’m fighting to find a sliver of forgiveness in the deepest crevice of my heart.

If not for a strong belief that God can bring good from the worst situations, it could be overwhelming. Thank God we have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight that comes because God has rushed in and proven that he is bigger than any disappointment that has ever come our way.

Rarely is God the one who pulls the rug out from under us. I’m not saying he can’t or won’t ever do that, but it seems to me that God occasionally allows a “big picture” view when it comes to taking care of us. I don’t mean that as an existential statement saying God does not care and isn’t intricately involved in every aspect of our lives, because I know he is. I simply mean I believe there are times when he allows injustice or disappointment to happen in our lives for the sake and benefits of what he can and will do in the big picture if we trust him and move forward with confidence.

Disappointments are a part of life. People let you down. Your body fails you. A precious child suffers and dies. Cancer comes back. Friends betray you. Bosses turn on you. Organizations toss you aside. The Stock Market falls. Children make bad decisions. Old habits—thought conquered—return, [insert your disappointment here] , and the list goes on and on …

It doesn’t matter “which” disappointment you’re dealing with now, this one thing holds true: no matter how bad life looks or how let down we feel, hope is always there. In fact, it is the believer’s constant companion—even when you can’t see it, it’s there.

So how do we overcome the letdowns of life? Here are four steps I use to process disappointment and help me move on with life.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
Psalms 34:18

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#1. Grieve
Although I’d like to say I am able to start the process of overcoming disappointments with step two, personal experience has taught me that it is almost impossible to defeat deep disappointment without going through a grieving process of some sort.

Feel your disappointment. It’s okay to be sad and grieve. When things don’t go the way you’ve planned or expected, or when life as you know it is shot down, it’s natural to be sad and even mourn what was or could have been. For some, grieving is a time of quiet reflection; for others, it involves tears and anger. Of course, the trick here is to release the sadness and accept the inevitable without feeding the root of bitterness that can quickly sprout up and flourish.

Pray. How blessed we are as believers to not have to carry the heavy burden of disappointment alone. Scripture teaches us, the load is more easily carried when the yoke is shared with others. We have Abba Father, Spouses, Trusted friends, Life group families; surround yourself by those who love and care for you and share your burden.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

God already knows about your heartache and disappointment, but tell him anyway. He wants you to talk to him. Be honest; speak from the heart. If you’re mad, tell him. (It’s okay—he’s God and he can take it!) If you want to know why, ask him. (Again, it’s okay—he’s God!) More importantly, ask for his wisdom and insight. Be still. Be quiet. Allow him to speak to your heart.

Cast your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
1 Peter 5:7

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#2. Put Things into Perspective
It’s during my times of great disappointment that I’m reminded of Isaiah 55:8-9: “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your thoughts.”

Realize that God knows best. How many times have we railed against circumstances and disappointments only to praise God later for the way things turned out? Though it’s difficult to swallow, there are many times when God will use a very painful disappointment to move us; even if we feel called to be right where we are. It’s okay. He’s faithful. He’s our defender and will go before us. Psalms 59:9 says, “God, my strength, I am looking to You, because God is my Defender.

Other times God will use a disappointment to take us  where he’s been trying to get us to go. And, almost always, God allows it to grow our character and faith.

Be thankful. It might sound tough when you’re reeling from disappointment, but be thankful and look for God’s goodness and graciousness in your life. Sure, it’s easier to wallow in self-pity, but don’t. 1 Thessalonians 5:8 teaches us to, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” Easier said than done, I know, but be intentional about your thankfulness and God will bless your efforts.

Serve others. When someone or something disappointments us, the inclination is to withdraw, turn in and focus on ourself. That’s the easy choice. But it’s not who we are in Christ; We can chose to be driven by what has happened to us or we can push through and live by the principles that guide our lives.

When it’s hard to put things into perspective, that’s the most important time to find the good, grab it with both hands, and celebrate it.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11

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#3. Focus on God’s Purpose for Your Life
Do we serve the God of the universe or not? I mean this is GOD we’re talking about—the one who created the earth. The author of life, purveyor of miracles. essence of resurrection and all things new. Omnipotent, Omniscient, God; Savior of the world! He can do anything. ANYTHING! [Note to self: God is in control!]

Reaffirm your faith. When disappointment takes a nose-dive down into our lives, it often brings a crisis of belief with it. That when our faith has to kick into gear and make a conscious decision of saying “yes, I believe in God’s plan and purpose for my life.” “I trust him with my future.” “I believe he’s got this,’ and he’s looking out for me and one day I’m going to step back and see how God’s perfect plan unfolded in my life.”

Move forward. In the meantime, things may stink but God’s plan for your life and the way he has gifted and shaped you hasn’t changed. Step back and look at where God is at work around you; then move forward. Sometimes we become so focused on “us,” we fail to see where he is directing our path. Even in our pain and suffering, God will use us.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Romans 8:28

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#4. Adjust Your Life Accordingly
There comes a point when all the wailing and gnashing of teeth subsides and life must continue. Psalms 30:5 says: “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Sometimes it takes a while to get to the “morning,” but eventually, the sun comes up. And when it does, there’s often change involved.

Embrace the change. If you can’t embrace change, go back to step three and review the part about God being in control. This is when we have to pull ourselves from the mire of disappointment and believe what we believe! If we don’t, we run the risk of becoming hostages to our disappointment.

Trust God and have courage. Trust God that you’re going to be able to say, “That was the best thing that could have happened in my life.” Why? Because sometimes God allows disappointments to take us where we otherwise would never have the courage to go!

Let go. The first time I went hang-gliding, I quickly realized it takes a lot more trust to jump off the mountain than to hang in the air. Once you’ve jumped, there’s not much more you can do than just hang on tight and enjoy the ride! We need to let go of “anything” we’re hanging on to tighter than God. The only thing we need to be holding on to IS God. Sometimes that “anything” may be more than just the disappointment—it may be people, places, jobs, homes, health—it may be everything. But, it’s when we let go of everything except God that hope thrives.

Hope Flourishes
This is what I know with all my heart: God has plans for us. They’re plans for good, not disaster; he wants to give us a hope that flourishes. We have a purpose and it doesn’t run or go away because someone or circumstances rocked our world. God will allow us to live out our purpose on this earth.

Even in the midst of great disappointment, God is preparing us for even greater work in the days ahead. Because of that, I’m inspired to make a promise this day—and every single day—to use my life for his good.

No matter what. Come rain or shine.

Billy Graham once said, “Even if we may not understand why God
allows certain things to happen to us, we know he is able to bring
good out of evil and triumph out of suffering.”

He can and he will.

Remember, it’s on the roller coaster of life that we discover the truth of Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.”

We can and we will; because life’s too short to do anything else.

My Willing Fraudulent Heart

IMG_4446One day I was sitting around the office going over editorial details with my boss, Jon. He was sitting on the sofa, strumming a guitar while throwing out ideas. Pastor Rick strolled in, picked up another guitar and joined the meeting. What followed was one of the most creative “idea-throwing” sessions I’ve ever been a part of in my communications career. The conversation was golden, and there was so much wisdom flying through the air, I felt like I was sitting at the feet of sages.

I must have looked contemplative as we were wrapping up because Rick asked me what I was thinking.
“I’m wondering what I’m doing here in this room,” I responded honestly. “I mean, how did I get here? There are moments—like right now—that I don’t feel qualified to be here.”

Rick looked me square in the eyes and said something I’ll never forget. “Sure, there are people who might be more qualified than you to do this job. But you’re not here just because of your qualifications. You’re here because of your willingness to be used by God.

“You’re here because you’ll do what he asks,” he continued, “and because you’re willing to do anything, he put you here.” Getting to his feet, he smiled and said matter-of-factly, “A willing heart that will do whatever God asks is the greatest qualification a person can have.” Then he perched the guitar on its stand and walked out of the room.

That was a few years ago.

The self-doubter in me—the one who lives in a small corner of my heart and makes snide remarks and ridicules me—sometimes still shows up. “Who are you to think you can do something like that?” she whispers in my ear. She makes me feel like a fraud. Like at any moment, someone is going to rush in and say, “What’s that girl doing here? She’s deceived us all—she’s an imposter. Off with her head!”

Or some such nonsense.

Usually I stick my tongue out at her leaving my “nothing is impossible” kind of faith intact because I really do believe I can do anything through Christ when he divinely empowers me to do it. But sometimes, I listen to her when she says, “If you really believed that, then you could be the brightest, most capable woman in the world.” Then I feel like a fraud, because I know I am not the brightest, most capable woman in the world, and I never will be.

That’s when I start fighting battles I won a long time ago. Plagued with insecurities I thought were long gone, I even start questioning my ability to construct an understandable sentence on an empty page.

Then I remember that conversation with Pastor Rick.

I forget about everything but having a willing heart. I look for it, and when I find it, I do the only thing I know to do—run hard after God and offer it up to him like a long-lost prodigal who has found her way to the page again.
When he takes it from my hands, I find the trust I carelessly misplaced; I tuck it back into my pocket, where it feels safe and warm. And I know with every fiber of my being that he knows who I am. If he gives me a job to do and a page to write, then he’ll give me the goods I need to get the job done.

Adapted from Life’s Too Short to Miss the Big Picture for Women , Leafwood Press, available at Amazon.com.

Passages

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April 2013 will be one of those months that stays with me for a lifetime.

I anticipate the first week of April unlike any other month of the year. If you are lucky enough to live in middle Tennessee, you know why I say that with no apology. Verdant growth begins to sprout on stark, dormant tree limbs and the forest lands become embossed with the neon raspberry of the Red Bud trees and the clotted white cream of Dogwoods. It’s also the time when one can be sure that winter is gone and the warmer, breezier days of spring and summer are truly going to happen.

Just when my heavy winter heart began to release some of it’s burden and I was anticipating the yearly ritual of raising my face to the sky to feel the warmth of the sun, dark clouds rushed in again.  It stole the warmth away.

A dear pastor and his wife whom I had the privilege of working with in Southern California — folks I still love, learn from and admire so very much — lost their adult son to suicide after a life long battle with mental illness. As the parent of an adult child diagnosed with Bipolar Disease, I identify with the struggle they have lived over the years. There was a period in our lives when depression and the daily struggle for our daughter to simply get out of bed was so dark and difficult that every time the phone rang, I just knew it was someone calling to tell me that she had taken her own life. Joy and happiness that comes our way always has a bittersweet aftertaste.

I can’t even begin to comprehend what it feels like to receive that phone call, but my dear friends do.

On the heels of one tragedy, came another.

“My sweet baby boy is fighting for his life,” a dear friend in Louisville pleaded on Facebook. “I so covet your prayers for my son and my family,” she added. So I prayed, asking God to please spare the life of this beautiful young man, only 32 years old.

His life slipped away in a hospital room in Indianapolis. A senseless death with senseless circumstances.

A moment of anger that now another dear friend has lost a child.

“It’s not the way it’s supposed to be Lord,” I cried. “Children aren’t supposed to die before their parents.”

It’s moments like these when all you can do is run to God and sit in his lap and release the grief you are holding so tightly so that it hurts when you let go; pleading for peace and comfort for those you hold dear, it flows from your weak, pitiful heart into his strong and caring arms.

Help them to breathe, Father. Every day. Every hour. No, every minute.

I pray that way because a dear friend who lost his precious wife to cancer not so long ago told me that afterwards breathing was the hardest part. “Sometimes,” he said, “the grief and pain is so great, I don’t think I can take another breath.”

Tragedy and loss are desolate places to dwell in when the earth is returning to life.

Now May is just around the corner and a chill still hangs in the air. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that winter continues to creep in and steal away our warm spring days or if my soul is just cold, swollen and remote because it has cried so much for people I care about so deeply.

I think it may just be a little of both.

Caught in the Middle

I have a dear friend who is experiencing a lot of change in her life. She is handling things well, but soon she’ll have to make some big life-changing decisions. What I’m wondering is if she’ll truly trust God and follow the path of change he’s opening before her very eyes, or will she dig in her heels and refuse to move forward in his will for her life.

Not that change is always drastic, but in this case it will be.

It will mean leaving behind all things and all people customary and comfortable and having the courage to step ahead into an unknown and unfamiliar scenario. It will mean letting go of her current situation and hoping and praying that things will get better and she can stay. Most of all it will mean forgetting the past and forging ahead to the future.

And, that takes courage.

It also takes focus because sometimes we hold on so tightly to our current situations or things in the past, we can’t move freely into the future. We get caught in the middle and waste a lot of time looking backwards when we should be looking forward. In fact, we often get so caught up in the past we don’t realize that change brings an opportunity for a fresh start and the chance to be a part of something new and different.

It won’t happen overnight, but eventually her change will become real and exciting. That’s because when God is the author of change, we can count on adventure – and who doesn’t love an adventure!

The truth is life’s too short to fight change.

Accept it.

Embrace it.

Most importantly, trust God with it.
We don’t have to cling to the comfort of the familiar if we trust that he’s in control. More importantly, we can leave it to him to make sense of it all.

I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.                 Philippians 4:12-13 (Msg)

© 2011 Kathy Chapman Sharp

Enjoy chapter 29 of Life’s Too Short to Miss the Big Picture (For Women) The Smell of Cheap Perfume

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I once knew a girl from Switzerland named Olivia. Tall and lanky, she was vivacious and outgoing—a beautiful girl who dipped sugar cubes into strong Spanish espresso and popped them between her lips, all the while smiling like she had invented a new way to drink coffee. Of course, Olivia did everything differently and was proud of it. She often entertained us with her latest escapades in broken English while we sat in the little coffee shop just off the Gran Via in Madrid.

The first day I met Olivia at the language school where we were both learning Castellan Spanish, she was wearing a bright green sweater with one of those alligator icons that were so popular in the early eighties. When I saw her the next day, she was wearing it again. In fact, when I said good-bye to Olivia six months later, she was still wearing that blasted green sweater.

Let me explain.

After thirty days or so, the sweater began to smell. “Surely she’ll buy another sweater,” I told myself. “After all, her father is an ambassador, for crying out loud—she can afford it!” But she didn’t, and after the second month, I could smell her in the classroom even though I sat two full rows over.

When month three rolled around, I started avoiding Olivia. She was a sweet girl, but let’s face it—she stunk to high heaven. Like a lot of Europeans, her bathing was sporadic, and when you added that malodorous green sweater to the mix. . . . Well, you understand why I went in the opposite direction when I saw her coming. When I couldn’t gracefully evade her, I’d stop breathing through my nose and try taking in air through my mouth while we conversed. Then, as soon as I could, I’d make a quick getaway.

My luck ran out when a new term started during month four. Not only did Olivia’s sweater get more difficult to bear, but I was assigned the seat next to hers in the afternoon language lab we attended every day. Olivia would put on a headset and prop herself up against the little partition that separated our learning areas, and I’d spend the next hour breathing the pungent air that wafted my way. Conjugating Spanish verbs was never easy, but suddenly it got harder.

Around month five, I’m guessing Olivia became aware of the problem because she started dousing herself and the green sweater with a fairly cheap perfume that you could pick up in any store in Madrid. Now the odorous breezes were rounded out with a bouquet of roses and jasmine. But no matter how much cheap perfume she sprayed on, the smell was never covered. It bled through like a magic marker on porous paper.

During month six, we graduated the term, and I said good-bye to Olivia and her green sweater. I’ll be honest—my nose was glad to see her go.

The other day, Terry and I were talking about our experiences of living in Spain. I laughed out loud when I recalled that green sweater. But later, in my quiet time with God, an arrow of truth pierced my heart so violently, I felt ashamed.

God reminded me of the times I refused to take off the green sweater of my old life. When it started getting stinky, I just doused myself in cheap grace. You know, the kind that ignores the fact that Christ went to the cross and why he went and what really happened there. The same cheap grace that downplays the need for regret, remorse, and life-change and then has the nerve to loudly complain that life as a Christian should be easier and require less commitment on my part.
Yeah, that’s the cheap grace I’m talking about. When things started getting stinkier, I’d just dab a little more cheap grace behind the ears and march boldly into God’s holy sanctuary, where my reeking assumptions cheapened the very sacrifices Jesus laid on the altar for me.

“How do you stand me, Lord?” I cried. “How can you stand to be around me?”

Several years ago, Scott Chapman coined the phrase “practical atheism.” He defines it as believing that God exists while behaving as if he does not. In other words, it’s a faith that’s so far removed from a person’s everyday life that it makes no real, practical difference in the way he or she lives.

I think practical atheists wear green sweaters and cheap grace.

No matter how much I said I believed and doused myself in cheap grace, it didn’t begin to cover the stench of what I wouldn’t let go. I don’t want to wear this cheap grace anymore. I can’t stand the smell of myself.

I’ve been reading a book my friend Jon Walker wrote called Costly Grace. The book affirms the truth I have known for a long time in my heart. Costly grace is pricey—it costs us everything we have, but it’s worth it. Costly grace compels us to take off our stinky green sweaters and bathe ourselves in the forgiveness that makes us clean and sweet-smelling. It requires obedience that results in a change of habits and thoughts, a new outlook, and even a change to the way we “do” relationships.
Real grace brings transformation to our lives. And there’s no need for cheap perfume when we’re taking a bath in that.

Life Note: Living out real grace isn’t easy, but life’s too short to settle for cheap grace. Every time we put it on, we lower the standard of the Gospel. If we give up our lives to Christ, he gives real life back. There’s no need for cheap grace because the stinky old life doesn’t exist anymore. When Christ lives in us, we really do change.

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (Gal. 2:20–21 NLT)

© 2011 Kathy Chapman Sharp